Media Options for Conversation-Driven eLearning

In conversation-driven elearning, you have multiple media options: video, animation, photos, illustrations, and voice over.

Rather than delivering eLearning content as a lecture, you can explain it through conversations. While stakeholders might ask for more resource-intensive multimedia, you have a range of options with this technique. It’s possible to use conversations even with a low budget. In the past, I’ve created conversation-driven eLearning with video, animation, and photos. This post explains those media options for conversation-driven elearning.


Video is especially helpful for courses where non-verbal communication is critical to understanding. You could create custom video for an entire module. For something short or high-impact, that might be a reasonable expense.

However, you can also use a little video strategically, and then combine it with other approaches. For example, you can use video to introduce the characters and the challenge they’re facing. With good actors and production quality, this gives your course the feel of a TV show intro. The next time you watch TV, pay attention to how the conflict of the story is introduced via a short segment before the title sequence.

My Story-Based Coaching and Mentoring Course used this technique with a video introduction. After the initial video, we used cutout still photos of the same actors. This required a custom photo shoot, but it was much cheaper than using video for the entire course.


Animated course with closed captions, one media option for conversation-driven elearning

As an alternative to video, you can use illustrated characters with animation. I use full animation only for the intro and closing, similar to how I use video to set up the story in the course described above. After the intro, use stills of the same characters. The animation can be engaging to “hook” learners at the beginning, but it may become distracting once you’re delivering content.

We used animated characters for this professional development course for teachers. In the intro and closing (plus a few transitions between sections), the characters were the focus of the image. During most of the content delivery, the voice over continued as a conversation between the two characters, but the visuals supported the content rather than the characters.

The course in the above screenshot used custom animation, but you could use Vyond to easily build this kind of animated conversation.

Photos or Illustrations

If your budget doesn’t allow for custom video or animation, character photos or illustrations can work well. I have used both cutout photo characters and illustrated characters for past projects. Photos can be realistic and show subtle nonverbal communication better, but illustrations may tell enough of the story and let learners fill in the rest of the gaps.

Two versions of an illustrated character from eLearning Art. The original version on the left has a yellow hard hat, ear plugs, and a safety vest. The edited version on the right has a green hard hat, no ear plugs, and a safety vest with sleeves.

Illustrations can also allow you more opportunity for customization. For that purpose, I like the eLearning Art collection, especially their “Designer Realistic” set. These are SVG files with layers so you can easily edit individual elements or adjust the poses. For one of my recent projects, I needed characters with specific combinations of PPE (personal protective equipment). I edited the eLearning Art characters to match the client requirements (such as a green hard hat and a safety vest with sleeves).

Voice Over…Or Not

Two employees with conversation bubbles about boring elearning

While I often find voice over to be beneficial, you can do a read-only version. Try a comic book or graphic novel style with conversation bubbles. I created this brief example with photos and conversation bubbles debunking the learning styles myth. This was created in PowerPoint; no rapid development tools were needed. Even on a low budget, you can immerse learners in a conversation rather than a didactic presentation.

Risks of Complex Media Options

If using more intensive multimedia will reduce the resources available to create more realistic practice exercises or other valuable learning experiences, you should cut the complexity of the media.

In one of her posts, Cathy Moore asks “What’s the real cost of eye candy?” Video and animation can be “eye candy” rather than adding value. They can detract from the time to create more complex and realistic activities. Think about the trade off when you select your media options.

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Image credits: eLearning Art, Storyblocks, eLearning Brothers

Originally published 3/1/17. Updated 2/1/21.

4 thoughts on “Media Options for Conversation-Driven eLearning

  1. It’s amazing how much difference conversations make. That’s something we discovered when we got started, so all our off-the-shelf eLearning is centered around conversations, even when we’re doing something like Microsoft Excel training. We try to create scenarios where one person is asking another for advice on how to create a chart in their Excel spreadsheet or whatever, and most people (not all, but a majority) seem to like this approach much better than the normal “voiceover lecture”.

    1. That is a brilliant use of conversations! So much of software training is just a list of features and steps without any connection to WHY you would use it. Just a little bit of framing to explain the reason behind the action makes it easier to understand and remember the process.

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